Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Learing How To Make Jam Russian-Style

In one of my recent columns, I told you how I visited a cherry orchard and ended up buying virtually the entire crop to save the owner, Aunt Dusya, the trouble of traveling into Moscow to sell her fruit. I would make jam, I merrily thought.

Now I must confess to you that I do not actually know how to make jam.

My Yorkshire mother, Jean Womack, was so brilliant in the kitchen that I never saw the point of trying to cook. I must have seen her make strawberry jam and crab apple jelly a thousand times. Certainly, it is a ritual that at the end of every home leave she presses jars of jam on me just when my suitcases are at bursting point.

But, faced with 20 kilograms of Aunt Dusya's rapidly rotting cherries, all I could remember about jam-making was that sugar came into it somewhere. It was too embarrassing to ask Mum after all these years. I needed to speak to a Russian housewife.

The best Russian housewife I know is a man. You met him last summer. He is a single father called Vitaly Matveyev. Bringing up six children on a meager musician's salary plus inadequate state allowances, he obviously has to know every trick in the kitchen.

I was right. Sugar did come into it. "We will need the same amount of sugar as fruit," said Vitaly. "That's all. The art is in the boiling."

A few years ago at this time of year, sugar would have been a big problem. With vodka scarce because of Mikhail Gorbachev's campaign against alcoholism, jam-making housewives found themselves competing with maniacal home brewers for every last grain.

But now cheap imported drinks have lessened the need for samogon, or moonshine, and sugar is available. We easily got a sack although there was a small drawback. The sack was hairy, so before we could start we had to pick all the hairs out of the sugar. But we did not stone the cherries. "Part of the joy of eating cherry jam is spitting out the stones," said Vitaly.

Then we had a crisis. We realized we had no large pans. Foolishly, I had driven past Ukrainian factory workers sitting on the side of the road, selling pots and pans in the spring. Now it was too late. Every pan in the Moscow region was bought up. Instead, we got an aluminum bucket and an enamel basin of the kind used for rinsing yourself off in the banya.

My inclination was just to pour the cherries and sugar into the containers and start boiling. But Vitaly said that if we did that, we would get what he contemptuously called "squash." He meant Western-style, spreadable jam in which the berries are all mushed up together. He wanted syrup, in which the individual cherries would be suspended evenly from the top to the bottom of the jar.

We heated the sugar until it was molten, then poured it over the cherries and brought them to the boil several times. We sterilized our three-liter jars, taken from the cellar of Vitaly's squirrel-like sister Natasha. We made over 30 liters of cherry jam, which will provide vitamins for the children when the Russian winter sets in again.

I took a small jar for my mother. I will surprise her by taking it out of my case on arrival in Yorkshire next time and maybe she will allow me to leave traveling light.